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Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS) artwork

Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS) review

"The bottom floor of each dungeon has a boss, and at this point you suddenly do get full control over your party. It's far more of a relief than it should be. Now, at last, I can make everybody do what I want them to do, and it feels like the party is finally showing its real effectiveness."

After what my 3DS tells me was 40 hours of play, Etrian Mystery Dungeon's final boss fell this morning, credits rolled, and I was left determining my final verdict. It's a puzzler. I enjoyed the game, wouldn't have played all the way through if I hadn't, but at the same time, I've had more challenge getting my largely AI-controlled party to do things that make sense than to actually overcome the monsters.

Though a crossover between the Mystery Dungeon games and Etrian Odyssey, this game feels more like a Mystery Dungeon title with Etrian Odyssey sauce than the other way around. The art style is there, the sound effects instantly familiar and the soundtrack reminiscent of the main series. The character classes are largely those of Etrian Odyssey, many monsters are familiar, and there's the gathering of materials and selling them in town to get the shops to come up with new weapons and armor. But at the core it's Mystery Dungeon, with randomly generated dungeon floors, monsters to slay and loot to find, and to use that to stay in business. Weapon and armor upgrades, and also consumables to help against the monsters and hidden traps. Oh, so many traps. Characters level up with experience and have skill trees much like the ones in Etrian Odyssey, with a variety of active and passive skills available, and the ability to reset spent skill points at a small cost in levels if you want to take somebody a different route.

It's possible to brave all this with one character or with a party of up to four, and oddly, the latter is not necessarily the easier choice. More firepower is welcome, but you normally control only one character at a time, with the AI taking care of the other three. The game is turn-based, so for every move you make, so do the monsters, and so do your allies, and their moves mystify at almost every turn. The AI isn't bad, per se, being decent at using support skills and healing at the right times, but the choice of where to move and what attacks to use leaves something to be desired, managing to damage slowly and yet burn through TP (essentially MP) much faster than you can. Sometimes a character asks permission to use a certain skill, but saying no will often have them use something different you weren't hoping for either. Skills can be turned off so the AI cannot pick them, but since it's often a matter of "I want you to use this sometimes, just not NOW", that doesn't help as much as you'd like. And heaven forbid you hit a teleporter trap and get your lead character separated from the rest of the group, as they'll start wandering in all directions and it'll take a lot of patience just to get everybody together again. I've used the skill to teleport the group to the last used stairs more often just to warp everybody to one room again than to actually escape combat.

Temptation is strong to just take a solo character in, which works to an extent as they will level more quickly and all the loot is theirs to use, but the problem lies in the DOEs, wandering monsters that start spawning in dungeons about halfway through the game, change floors when you do, and try to work their way to the surface. If they reach the town, they'll destroy the improvements you've spent your hard-earned money on. You'll want to either bring in your main party to stop them, or construct fortresses at choke points in the dungeon, where you can park backup characters to stop the DOE as it attempts to come through. Either way, these foes are basically immune to all damage unless you land status effects on them, so your lineup is going to have to be able to do this, which is why a single character will struggle. A lineup of four different classes has a far better shot at bringing every skill you'll need to the table. During battle you *can* switch which character is currently leading, and for DOE battles I often found myself switching to whoever I really needed to use a specific skill at a specific time, hoping that the character I just relegated to the AI will behave.

In classes there is the basic warrior Etrian Odyssey consistently calls the Landsknecht (a name that seems intended only to trip up non-Germanic forumites attempting to spell it), the Protector who soaks up damage and sports an overpowered Provoke skill that forces everything, boss or non-boss, to focus their attacks on him, Medics that are quite necessary to keep everybody in one piece, and an assortment of Gunners, Ninjas, mages and the unique Wanderer class that is largely an homage to Mystery Dungeon legend Shiren. Classes have their own equipment requirements, though I found getting the shops in town to slowly unlock new ones less vital than in Etrian Odyssey. My characters largely functioned on what they found in the dungeons, and I used the town shop largely to upgrade the weapons and shields I'd already found. The one time I did some major shopping was after my game froze. A shutdown during a dungeon is seen as an attempt to reset an undesirable outcome, so by good Mystery Dungeon tradition, that meant I got booted to town sans equipment. Apart from that unfortunate incident, the game's autosaving is usually convenient, allowing a break at any one time. Town, dungeon, halfway a boss fight, doesn't matter. Wherever the game doesn't save by itself, you can suspend save. Handheld games need to do this more consistently, so that I never have to wonder if I can take this particular title with me on a bus or not.

The story's inoffensive but largely inconsequential, with a tale going on in the background about innocuous places around town becoming dungeons, and adventurers gathering to explore them all, but of course it's only your guild that makes any headway. It serves largely as an excuse for new dungeons to pop up as the story progresses, seven in total, with several more in the postgame. The graphics differ, but every dungeon is much like the previous one, only deeper and even more riddled with traps, monsters, and traps that summon monsters. Each randomly generated floor tends to have the same set of square rooms and snaking corridors in between, with only subtle differences. A far cry from Etrian Odyssey's varied dungeon layouts, nasty tricks like teleporters and one way doors, where mapping out your progress by stylus on the touchscreen was essential (and frankly the core of the game). Here it's all generated, and it shows. The map is drawn automatically, and there is no touchscreen functionality at all. The bottom floor of each dungeon has a boss, and at this point you suddenly do get full control over your party. This can be made briefly available during the dungeon trek and is best saved for fighting DOEs, but for the dungeon boss it's an automatic, and it's far more of a relief than it should be. Now, at last, I can make everybody do what I want them to do, and it feels like the party is finally showing its real effectiveness. Well, that, and these bosses do not have the annoying DOE ability to shrug off all damage unless they are currently under a status effect (or for the bigger ones, two different ones). The final boss went down in one try with nobody ever remotely threatened, having been far harder to get to than to actually put down.

The final verdict is a bit mixed. I had fun, but from the beginning to the end, I felt like I was fighting the AI and the mechanics more than the enemy. It was the game's saving grace for me that misfortune can be bounced back from. Losing all my gear because the game crashed was a setback, but not a game breaker. Getting wiped out by an unlucky spawn of enemies, or seeing the town wrecked by a DOE that slipped through, is costly, but again just a setback. And if all else fails, your party does level up, and getting your party wiped does not take that away from you. A cautious recommendation, then, with due warning that mixing Etrian Odyssey parties with Mystery Dungeon mechanics comes with a few quirks. But nothing that patience cannot overcome, and whichever of the two series you're coming from, you probably have plenty of that.


sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (June 28, 2015)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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joseph_valencia posted June 28, 2015:

Fair review.

I think Mystery Dungeon fans will get more out of this game than Etrian fans. Mixing the Etrian ability system with MD game mechanics is really novel. As far as the A.I. goes, I turn off all abilities and simply micro-manage my team. Attack magic isn't really worth the time of day from my experience, so I simply substitute a standard Mage with a Gunner who knows elemental attacks. My team is three physical attackers and one healer. Nice setup that's easy to manage.

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